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  • Writer's pictureJohn Chapin

For Stronger Tomatoes, Plant Horizontally

tomato planted horizontally in ground

One of my aunts always had a hugely productive vegetable garden that was the envy of the neighborhood. Among her harvest of peas, string beans, carrots, potatoes, cabbages, and sweet peppers were the most delicious tomatoes imaginable. Indiana is famous for tasty tomatoes and sweet corn, so a great many people make room for a few tomato plants in a sunny spot of their yard, even if they don’t have a large vegetable garden. There’s nothing like a fresh vine-picked tomato on a sunny summer day!

There are lots of opinions and advice on how best to grow tomatoes, including folk remedies and planting instructions. One of the most important is to wait until after Mother’s Day to plant tomatoes and other warm-weather vegetables. The ambient air temperatures might be positively balmy in early May, but the soil temperature needs to be at least in the low 60s for these vegetables to get off to a strong start. That requires a few weeks of warm temperatures, and delaying planting lessens the chance of damage from a late frost.

My aunt had what I thought was a strange way to plant her tomatoes. The day before planting, she would lay all of her potted tomato plants horizontally on the garage floor. The next morning, the top few inches of the plant had turned up vertically. She carefully carried them out to the garden where she had hoed shallow trenches in the tomato patch, one for each of the plants. She would sprinkle some of her rich compost along the bottom of each trench (you can also use a fertilizer formulated especially for tomatoes), then lay each plant horizontally along a trench, cut off the leaves along the stem except for the upward-facing tip, and backfill with soil so that just the vertical-growing tip was exposed above the soil. (If this is confusing, there are YouTube videos showing this method.)

New roots will quickly grow all along the buried stem, resulting in a huge root system that will not only boost the plant to rapid growth, but make it more vigorous and healthy. Use your preferred method of staking or caging the plants, water well all summer, and enjoy the harvest!

Happy gardening!

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